Special from Yemen: Rival tribes reconcile, say Saleh’s ouster path to unity

Sanaa — Mareb Governorate’s Murad and Abeeda tribes once claimed a three-decade-long legacy of revenge killings. But today the erstwhile rivals live together in one tent as one family in Sanaa’s al-Tagheer Square along with five to seven thousand Yemenis camped out in defiance of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime. As widespread demonstrations in Yemen usher in their third consecutive month, tribes throughout Yemen are reconciling and uniting under the banner of the president’s abdication.  

“His {Saleh’s} best way to rule us was by creating crises among us,” said regime opponent Nasr al-Qadhi.
As Saleh continues to threaten persistent anti-government protests will engender civil war and provincial succession in Yemen, tribal leaders and opposition parties are accusing the three-decade-long head of state of fostering similar fragmentation.
Regardless of the onus of responsibility, rifts within Yemeni society are growing ever more visible.
Revolutionaries in recent days have seized control of al-Jwaf, Sa’ada and Abyn governorates while security forces loyal to Saleh have withdrawn from Mareb and Shabwa. Those revolutionaries, in interviews with Al-Masry Al-Youm, alleged force is the only method to oust a president they consider repressive and corrupt. The rebels also echoed suggestions from experts that Saleh is fomenting tensions for political expedience.
“The president is trying to get out of the political crises by creating chaos,” said Yemeni political analyst Abdulhakeem Hilal. “He’s withdrawing security forces from Abyan and other governorates, to start conflicts as an introduction to a civil war to convince the West that, without him, Yemen can’t be unified or safe.”
Despite reports of looting in al-Jawf government buildings by thugs, Sheikh Snan al-Iraqi says life is stable under the control of al-Jawf’s tribal leaders engaged in the uprising.  
“Governmental foundations are working normally,” al-Iraqi said. “The revolutionaries control the governorate and the government buildings they took over peacefully.”
In an act of defiance against Saleh’s suggestions of impending ethnic strife, al-Iraqi said the al-Jawf and al-Otmi tribes, long-time rivals, recently ended a history of revenge killings by uniting in their calls for Saleh's ouster. The governorates’ violence, according to al-Iraqi, is due to the pro- and anti-government schism. Clashes in al-Jawf on 21 March between these two factions claimed one life.
“The killer was the director of social welfare fund from al-Hamd tribe,” al-Iraqi said. “His tribe helped the revolutionaries catch him, which shows tribal standards aren’t the way a civil war will start.”
Al-Iraqi also said government forces manned spots on rooftops in the governorate's main urban center, proceeding to open fire and injure 28 protesters, seven in critical condition.
The rebellion in al-Jawf took more concrete shape last week after Saleh established new leadership at the governorate’s military camp 115. Soldiers sympathetic to the uprising deposed the Saleh loyalists.  
“Now the revolutionaries protect all the properties at the camp and all the documents,” said al-Iraqi. “The equipment remains the same as it was before.”
But developments in recent days that suggest those claims of full control may lack some degree of accuracy, Hamdan tribe members stormed the Central Bank in al-Jawf, demanding YR 20-30 million to vacate the premises.
“The central bank is now still under the thugs’ control,” said al-Iraqi. “They are known as supporters to the regime.”
The revolutionaries, al-Iraqi added, are protecting the outside of the bank and the deputy governor is engaged in negotiations to end the standoff.
Hussein al-Qadhi, a protest leader in Mareb says the tribal youth have constructed public committees to protect the public buildings. And in one of the most heavily per capita armed countries in the world, those committees are enforcing a ban on weapons possession.
“We are protecting the governorate after the security withdrew,” al-Qadhi said. “We face some thugs from different tribes. Some are from my own tribe. It’s not a tribal issue anymore.”
“Some of the pro-government tribes in Mareb like al-Jeda’an and al-Kua’lan pretended to protect the high road from Sanaa to Mareb after security withdrew. But they were looting.”
In addition to the vacuum of authority, Yemen’s villagers also face issues with unavailability of staple commodities. Mareb now faces a gas crisis. Al-Qadhi said he and other protest leaders offered to assume the governorate’s head of the gas and oil office to protect the gas transmission from Mareb to Sana’a.
“I went to Ben Me’aili, the head of the oil office, and offered to transfer the gas if he provided us with ten to 20 tanks,” said al-Qadhi. “The government accused us of preventing the gas transmission so we wanted to show the world their lies by delivering it ourselves.”
But Ben Me’aili, while rejecting the offer, vowed to cooperate with the protest leaders.  
Moreover, some tribes were encouraged by regime officials to steal state weaponry after security partially withdrew from Shabwa Governorate, according to Naji al-Sumi, the head of the political department of Islah party in al-Jawf. In response, some tribes formed public committee to defend the governorate. The committees, according to al-Sumi, reached an agreement with local security to support their effots.
And tribal rapprochement, al-Sumi says, is not only visible in power grappling scenarios or bureaucratic circles. It is being felt by common Yemenis everywhere.  
“The tribal position is what brought balance to the political game,” he said. “One protester saw his uncle after 16 years because of a revenge story. They hugged and cried in public, forgiving each other. No civil war will be in Yemen as long as the tribes are acting this way.”

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